Sean Penn and gay director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) have created a warm-hearted testament to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay individual who was elected to major political office (the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco), and was then murdered/martyred.
Penn is effective as the quirky, spirited Milk. He's less self-indulgent than usual. (Fortunately, he's no Sam I am; he's Harvey I want to Be.)
Van Sant, from an original screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, concocts a Wizard of Oz with Anita Bryant as the Wicked Witch of the West. Van Sant treats Harvey very kindly -- maybe too kindly -- and Penn presents Harvey as a happy warrior on the golden brick road of San Francisco.
Josh Brolin gives another strong performance as politician Dan White, the confused murderer of Milk and Mayor Moscone (Victor Garber). James Franco is deftly low-key as Milk's partner. Only Diego Luna seems somewhat lost in a thankless role as an uncontrollable young lover of Milk.
Obviously this is not a movie for homophobes, and might have a few uncomfortable moments for average viewers, but Milk is worth seeing as an artful homage to a provocative figure and a movement.
One might suppose, given the facts of what happened, that Milk is a depressing movie, but Van Sant and Penn transcend the facts and create a moving tribute.